Airport security with CLEAR, what is it?
I received an email the other day that had a headline “CLEAR is now at Westchester airport!”. Having seen a CLEAR entry point at security while flying out of SFO (San Francisco) earlier this year, the email peaked my interest as I was going be flying out of HPN very frequently in the near future.
If you’ve never heard of CLEAR before, the idea is simple. It is a commercial endeavor aimed at allowing you to bypass the long ID and boarding pass lines at the security checkpoints in airport terminals. They give you the means to shoot past the long lines and go straight into the screening area.
Great in theory but good in practice?
CLEAR doesn’t operate at a lot of airports so the benefit is, I think, better for business travelers who fly out of the same airport frequently. Since I happen to be flying out of HPN (Westchester airport) often, I decided to give them a try.
Note that there is a process you have to go through before you can use CLEAR at the airport. You need to physically go to one of their offices and have your documentation verified and you need to have your fingerprints and retinas scanned. It doesn’t take long to do and you’re in and out of the office in less than 15 minutes. Once that’s done, you get your CLEAR smart card in the mail within a week or two.
On my first day using CLEAR at HPN I happened to get there super early (5:30am in fact!). HPN is a small airport so there’s not that many people there at that time. There was no line at the TSA ID check so I could have just sped right through that without using CLEAR but since I was eager to try out my CLEAR pass, I went to the CLEAR area instead.
At HPN there are two large kiosks and two friendly CLEAR agents there who help you get through. I handed over my CLEAR photo ID smart badge over to one of the agents. She inserted it into the kiosk and I did a fingerprint scan. It instantly recognized me and the agent signaled the ok to her partner to unlock a special shortcut door into the screening area.
All in all it took about 30 seconds to get through. It was a breeze.
OK, but did it save time?
Honestly speaking, since there was no line that morning at the TSA ID check, I would have been in the screening area a few moments before I would have walked through the CLEAR shortcut so no real-time savings for me that morning. However, I’ve been at HPN when the ID badge check wraps around itself a few times so I can see it saving a good 10-15 minutes of waiting when the line is long.
How much is it?
It’s $179 a year for an individual and less for family and corporate accounts. At that price you need to consider whether it’s something you’ll use frequently.
How does this compare to TSA Pre Check?
I don’t have any experience with TSA Pre Check but from what I have read, the premise is similar. TSA Pre Check aims at saving you time in the screening area. One nice thing about TSA Pre Check is that if you already have Global Entry, you can participate in TSA pre-check right off the bat. You can find more info on TSA pre-check at TSA’s pre-check website.
Where can you use CLEAR?
Unfortunately not at that many places. Here’s the list as of December 2012. The latest list can be found on the CLEAR website.
- Orlando International Airport (MCO)
- Denver International Airport (DEN)
- San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
- Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
- Westchester NY Airport (HPN)
Is CLEAR worth having?
For me, it’s too early to say. $179 is a sizable investment. It’s along the same lines as asking if paying $400 a year for lounge access is worth it. If you fly out once a week out of any of the airports with CLEAR and you are constantly short on time, you probably should consider it.
I’ve seen CLEAR at SFO (San Francisco airport) as well and I recall there being a zero line at CLEAR. At the time I had no clue what it was about, I thought it was for airport personnel. Now I know better and it would have saved me the 15 minutes it took to get through the TSA ID check line if I had a CLEAR membership then!
Now that I have it, I have to try it out a few more times to find out if it’s worth it for me. I tend to fly really early in the morning when the lines are short so it may not benefit me as much but like I said, lines do get long at HPN later in the day so if I were to fly more often in the later morning or afternoons, then it might be worth it to save the annoyance of waiting in line.
So it depends on your situation. If you tend to fly often when the airport is busy it might be worth it.
Discounts on CLEAR
These are the ones I’m aware of. I’ll update the list occasionally as I find them.
- SAVE $25 with promo code CMNAF1X at Checkout.
- Get referred and get one month free! Perfect if you want to try before you buy. Request it in the comments below and I’ll send you a referral link! (Available until I run out of referrals!)
Have you tried out CLEAR? Is it the best thing since sliced bread for you? I’m curious to see what you think.